According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 98 convicted murderers were executed in 1999, the highest number of executions since the early 1950s. The report also states that 3,500 people are now on death row and the number has increased by 20 percent since 1998. The death penalty has been abandoned by every other developed nation except the United States.

Robert Jay Lifton, director of the Center on Violence and Human Survival at John Jay College, and Greg Mitchell, features editor of Editor and Publisher magazine, take a hard look at why over 66 percent of American citizens continue to support capital punishment. In interviews with scholars, activists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, religious figures, and public officials they find "new waves of pained feelings engulfing the issue."

They discuss revelations in several states of innocent men on death row, the increasingly strong opposition to capital punishment by Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, and new respect for the alternative to executions — life imprisonment without parole. Lifton and Mitchell hit high stride in their assessment of the link between capital punishment and the pornography of violence in American culture that encourages millions of people still to feel the need to have the state eradicate evil. Near the end, the authors ask the most important questions of all: "Are we capable of holding a compassionate perception of both the horror of the original murder and the wrongness of killing in capital cases?"

Lifton and Mitchell believe the tide is turning in public sentiment against the death penalty. For the sake of compassion, we hope they are right.